Ayr skipper Pete McCallum channelled the spirit of the late, great baseballer and comic philosopher Yogi Berra when he said his dramatic late yellow card was like “déjà vu all over again”.
He was beaming with delight after his side had won the BT Premiership final with a narrow victory over Melrose at The Greenyards on Saturday but admitted his mood was starkly different in the fraught moments after referee Mike Adamson flashed the card for collapsing a maul when Ayr were hanging on grimly on their own line to a four-point lead.
In last year’s final at Millbrae, Ayr were in a similar position and McCallum was also sin-binned at the death but on that occasion a penalty try was also awarded and Heriot’s snatched the title. This time it was just a penalty kick to the corner, visiting lock Scott Sutherland made a heroic lineout steal and Ayr were champions for the third time in their history.
“I couldn’t quite believe it – it was déjà vu all over again – I was just about in tears on the sideline,” said McCallum of that moment which, at the time, looked like it might be a fatal one that heaped yet more last-gasp agonies on Calum Forrester’s side.
“I didn’t actually see it when Queenie [Scott Sutherland] got up there and stole that lineout. But the guys did brilliantly to hold on to it under pressure.
“What a team, to come back in that fashion. Melrose, credit to them, put us under some pressure at the end – they were relentless. Throughout the second half they cranked it up a notch and we were just holding out and holding out, and trying to take our opportunities when we got them. There’s a few things for us to work on next week, but we’ll do that and then see what we can do.”
“Next week” referred to a rematch between these two stand-out club sides in Saturday’s BT Cup final at Murrayfield, which will hopefully come with the same drama but perhaps a bit more in the way of entertaining rugby.
The Greenyards showdown, with Melrose having home advantage for topping the regular season standings, was a bit of a dour affair, although never less than compelling. Ayr won it through four penalties from stand-off Frazier Climo after they had carved out a 9-3 half-time lead.
Melrose scored the only try of the afternoon as Ruaridh Knott, pictured, powered over in the second half to add to Jason Baggott’s first-period penalty. The home side looked poised to break Ayr hearts as they camped out in the right-hand stand-side corner in the closing stages but it was not to be.
McCallum grinned when asked if he was guilty as charged in that maul collapse. “It was going down and I didn’t stop it as much as I could have. It wasn’t me who initiated it but he saw it differently. I was probably more guilty than I was last year,” was the No 8’s assessment of the incident.
The Ayr skipper conceded it wasn’t a classic but, as he looked down at the league winner’s medal around his neck, didn’t seem overly bothered by that.
“Finals sometimes get like that because, when there is so much at stake, nobody wants to be the first to make a mistake,” he said. “But in the second half I couldn’t quite believe it when I spoke to the ref and he said there were only ten minutes left – I thought he was going to say more like 25 minutes.
“It was a very fast game. There weren’t many lineouts apart from penalties, the ball was getting in play for long periods, so the lungs were pretty done by the end of the first half, but we came out, dug deep and came away with the goods.”
There was a bit of déjà vu for beaten Melrose coach Rob Chrystie, too, as he reflected that his side’s only other two defeats all season, at home to Heriot’s and away to Ayr, had finished in similar fashion with the Borderers pounding the line but failing to get over.
While naturally disappointed, Chrystie was gracious in his praise for the victors and will now look to lift his charges for a revenge mission in this weekend’s cup final.
“Aye, pretty close. We had our chance,” said the Melrose coach. “We had quite a few chances – we just didn’t take them.
“We said before the game it was going to come down to small margins and that’s exactly what it was.
“To be fair to Ayr, I thought they came down with a pretty good plan. They dominated the breakdown, in the first half especially, and kind of controlled the game as a result of that in that first half.
“But look, once we got playing, we showed what we were about and we showed that we could definitely get in amongst it and create opportunities. But credit to Ayr and well done to them.”